WEDDERBURN, JAMES (1495?-1533), JOHN (1500-1556) and ROBERT (i5io?-?1556), Scottish poets and religious reformers, were natives of Dundee, where their father James Wedderburn was a prosperous merchant. All three brothers studied at St Andrews University. James Wedderburn, who had gone to St Andrews in 1514, was for a time in France preparing for a mercantile career. On his return to Dundee in 1514 he received instruction in the Reformed faith from Friar Hewat, a Dominican monk. He composed a play on the beheading of St John the Baptist, and another, a morality satirizing church abuses, in the setting of episodes from the story of Dionysius the Tyrant, both of which were performed in 1540 in the playfield of Dundee. Neither of these nor a third ascribed to him by Calderwood, the historian, are extant. A charge cf heresy was brought against him, but he escaped to France, and established himself as a merchant at Rouen or Dieppe, where he lived unmolested until his death in 1553, although attempts were made by the Scottish community there to bring further charges against him.
John Wedderburn graduated M.A. at St Andrews in 1528. He took priests' orders and appears to have held the chaplaincy of St Matthews, Dundee, but in March 1539 he was accused of heresy, apparently for having, in conjunction with his brothers, written some anti-Catholic ballads. He escaped to Wittenberg, where with other of his compatriots he received the teaching of the German reformers. There he gained an acquaintance with the Lutheran hymns, which he turned to account on his return to Scotland. The death of James V. and the known leanings of the regent, the earl of Arran, to reform, encouraged many exiles, Wedderburn among them, to revisit Scotland. It is probable that he was the author of the greater portion of the Compendious Book of Psalms and Spiritual Songs which contains a large number of hymns from the German. The enormous influence of the collection, with its added Gude and Godlie Ballalis, on Scottish reform, is attested by the penalties enacted against the authors and printers of these books. John Wedderburn was in Dundee as late as 1546, when he was obliged to flee to England. John Johnston in his Coronis mar ty rum says he died in exile in 1556.
Robert Wedderburn, who graduated M.A. in 1530, was ordained priest, and succeeded his uncle John Barry as vicar of Dundee; but before he came into actual possession he also was suspected of heresy, and was compelled to flee to France and Germany. He returned to Scotland in 1546. He appears to have been actual vicar of Dundee in 1552. His sons were legitimized in January 1553.
The earliest known edition of the Compendious Book of Psalms and Spiritual Songs (of which an unique copy is extant) dates back to 1567, though the contents were probably published in broad sheets during John Wedderburn's lifetime. It consists of a calendar and almanac, a catechism, hymns, many of them translations from the German, metrical versions of the Psalms, and a collection of ballads and satirical poems against the Catholic church and clergy. The separate shares of the brothers in this compilation cannot be settled, but Robert is said to have edited the whole and added the sect ion of " gude and godlie ballatis." Many of these ballads are adapted from secular songs. Editions of the book appeared in 1578 (printed by John Ros), in 1600 (by Robert Smith), in 1621 (by Andro Hart); selections were published by Lord Hailes (1765) and by Sibbald (1802) ; a reprint of the 1621 volume was edited by Sir J. G. Dalyell in Scotish Poems of the Sixteenth Century (1801); and of the 1578 volume by David Laing in 1868. In 1897 Professor A. F. Mitchell reprinted the 1 567 volume (expurgated) for the Scottish Text Society.
" Vedderburn's " Complainte of Scotlande (1549) has been variously assigned to Robert Wedderburn, to Sir David Lyndsay and to Sir James Inglis, who was chaplain of the Abbey of Cambuskenneth from about 1508 to 1550. It is a prose treatise pleading for the maintenance of the Scottish alliance with France, written by a determined enemy of England and of the English party in Scotland. It is dedicated to Mary of Guise, and consists of the " Dreme " of Dame Scotia and her complaint against her three sons. These two sections are connected by a " Monologue Recreatif," in which the author displays his general knowledge of popular songs, dances and tales, of astronomy, natural history and naval matters. Four copies of this work are extant, but in none is the title-page preserved. In the Harleian catalogue the book is entered as Vedderburn's Complainte of Scotlande, wyth ane Exortatione to the thre Estaits to be vigilante in the Dejfens of their Public Veil (1549) (Calalogus Bibliothecae Harleianae, vol. i. no. 8371). This title, which is repeated with variations in spelling in vol. iv. no. 12070, bears every mark of authenticity. The book appears to have been printed in France, and the idea of Dame Scotia's exhortations to her sons, the Three Estates, is borrowed from Alain Chartier's Quadrilogue invectif, some passages uf which are appropriated outright. Other passages are borrowings from Octavien de Saint Gelais and Sir David Lyndsay. There are strong arguments against Robert Wedderburn's authorship, as maintained by Laing and others. It is not likely that he would write in support of Cardinal Beaton's policy, and the dialect is an exaggerated form of Latinized Middle Scots, differing materially from the language of the Compendious Book. Some of the orthographical and typographical peculiarities are due to the fact that the book was set up by Parisian printers. Sir I. A. H. Murray inclines to 11 it to Sir James Inglis, or an unknown priest of the name of Ulerburn.
The text of the Complaynt was first edited by Leyden in 1801. Murray's edition for the E.E.T.S. appeared in 1872. The introduction to the latter requires revision in the light of later discoveries as to the plagiarisms in the text. See the paper by W. A. Neilson in The Journal oj Germanic Philology (iv.), the note by W. A. Craigie in The Modern Quarterly of Language and Literature (i. 267), Gregory Smith's Specimens oj Middle Scots (1902), p. 135 et seq., and the article by J. T. T. Brown in the Scottish Historical Review (January 1904).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)